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Rodrigo Pla Attacks ‘Monstrous’ Mexican Health Care

Venice Horizons bows with Pla’s ‘A Monster with a Thousand Faces’

Rodrigo Pla’s “Monster With a Thousand Heads,” which opened the Venice Horizon section, not only tackles corporate abuse in Latin America, it also taps into a global movement of ordinary people questioning authority and demanding change. Written with wife Laura Santullo, and based on her eponymous novel, “Monster,” is “an intimate thriller,” he said at a press conference for the film, which Memento Films Intl. has acquired for world sales. He was joined there by Santullo, actress Janu Raluy, d.p. Odei Zabalata and producer Sandino Saravia Vinay.

That thriller element kicks in almost from the get-go when Sonia (Raluy) visits the cubicled offices of a medical insurance corporation one Friday afternoon in a desperate attempt to persuade it to include costly drugs her dying husband needs in her insurance policy. Given the brush-off, she corners the doctor supervising her case in an underground parking lot, follows him back to his chalet, and pulls a semi-automatic.

“We tried to make a naturalist film which reflected the conflict of an ordinary citizen with a big corporation, its dehumanization. This happens in private medical insurance, but also in other types of corporations where ethics aren’t important, places where decisions are partitioned where everyone passes the buck,” Pla said. “Everybody takes small decisions which frees them from behaving ethically.”

As the woman makes her way up the corporate ladder, at pistol-point, her discoveries are illuminating: Her insurer automatically rejects a certain percentage of insurance requests as a policy, her doctor tells her under duress.

First indicting the systematic indifference of big business, “Monster” ends up questioning its own authority when scene after scene, which first seem neutrally observed, are revealed to be testimonies of one protagonist in a future court case brought against Sonia.

The structure is meant to underscore the subjectivity of all the films’ characters, Pla said.

“Monster” was made as disgruntled masses poured into the streets across Latin America to protest against multiple authorities’ abuse of power.

That protest may be “implicit” in “A Monster of a Thousand Heads,” Pla recognized: “When we structured the ideas in the films, we did so in a context. For me, states should regulate the private sector. When we experience realities like Mexico’s, where the absence if the state is felt across the board, a certain skepticism is natural.”

But “Monster” is not a thesis film, he said. “It might suggest ideas, interpretations, but it is a film which follows a few characters, tells a specific story, looks at the human condition, at life itself. Sonia, he points out, is not even statistically representative of Mexico, where only 5%-10% of the population have medical insurance.

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